Tag Archives: writing advice

Doing NaNoWriMo? Some Tips on Writing Dialogue

As it’s National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo for us cool kids – I thought I’d offer some advice on writing dialogue. As ever with writing advice, feel free to pick and choose. What works for me doesn’t always work for someone else.

Dialogue can be one of the most difficult things for writers to get right, especially, as in my case, you’re attempting to portray the speech patterns of people who live in a made-up world. Depending on genre, you need to establish early on what idiom your characters are speaking in, i.e. are they going to be conversing in a medieval form of speech – rich in ‘my lords’, ‘your highnesses’ and sundry others – or will their speech be more modern?

It’s a good idea to start by establishing some basic rules for dialogue in your world, if we’re dealing with a world modelled on an ancient era how do people address each other during a formal gathering? How would a slave address his master? Making these rules and sticking to them throughout your novel will add to the sense of your world being a real place with long-established customs.

One of the pitfalls of writing dialogue is in the tendency for it to degenerate into a simple, often dull exchange of information in order to advance the plot. Obviously, some aspects of the plot should be progressed through dialogue, but it’s important not to make every conversation a question-and-answer session.

Having your characters talk about their past, instead of introducing them with a biographical prose description, is an effective means of bringing them to life. It also sells the notion of characters bonding through shared knowledge. Dialogue is also a great way to reveal aspects of character; an extrovert will talk more than an introvert, but the introvert may actually have something more interesting to say.

One method of making your dialogue more interesting is to observe the different ways people converse in real life, friends will banter whilst the conversation of strangers will be more stilted. Good dialogue will reflect the tone of your scene, a moment of conflict will usually involve terse, clipped speech, or perhaps none at all, whilst people engaged in a light-hearted social gathering will talk at length and with humour. Whilst you should endeavour to make room for humour in your dialogue, be careful about not overdoing it and make sure it’s actually funny – there’s a reason why relatively few people make a living writing comedy.

Whilst you should draw from real life in crafting your dialogue, don’t try to mirror real-speech in your writing. The way people talk in reality is rarely reproduced in fiction for the simple reason that it tends to make very little sense when written down verbatim. You have to find a balance between the reality of human dialogue and the need to convey necessary information to the reader.

By all means, watch movies for inspiration, but don’t try to ape the dialogue of well-known screenwriters, it’ll just sound like a parody at best or a poor imitation at worst. There are enough Tarantino imitators in the world penning endless speeches full of comic-book or TV references. Such imitators invariably miss the real lesson to be learned from Tarantino’s dialogue which lies in how it reveals the true nature of his characters – see Jules’s speech at the end of Pulp Fiction: ‘The truth is that I am the tyranny of evil men and you’re the weak.’

Finally, a quick word about attributions and the oft demonised adverb. Put simply, the S word is not your enemy. When penning your first draft it may feel tedious to repeatedly write ‘he said’, ‘she said’, but it’s something readers often barely register. The main watchword with dialogue is ‘clarity’, you need to make it clear to the reader who is speaking at a given time. Once you’ve established this it’s advisable to drop attributions altogether until you need them again, and when you do in most cases a simple ‘said’ is enough.

That being said (see what I did there?), feel free to put ‘asked’ or ‘enquired’ if it’s a question, or ‘demanded’ to illustrate a character’s anger. ‘Replied’, ‘answered’ and ‘responded’ are also perfectly fine, as are the more emotive ‘snapped’, ‘sighed’, ‘grated’ or ‘grunted.’ I’d advise using overly emotive attributions sparingly, such as ‘raged’, ‘exploded’ or (Dark Gods forbid) the now thankfully mostly defunct ‘ejaculated’. Using adverbs is a common method of adding emotion to dialogue but is, as Stephen King pointed out at length in ‘On Writing’, frequently over-used: ‘she said dully/softly/testily/moodily/extravagantly’ and so on. In most cases, the emotion of the character’s speech is most effectively conveyed in the dialogue itself and the scene that surrounds it. As an exercise take a look at a long passage of dialogue and replace every attribution with the word ‘said’ and remove any associated adverbs. You might be surprised how well it reads.

Draconis Memoria Info & New Writing Craft Articles

For anyone interested in the wider world of The Draconis Memoria I’ve uploaded a Chronology of the Corporate Age, which covers the 2oo years prior to the events in The Waking Fire, a Dramatis Personae (in case you’ve forgotten who the characters are), and a guide to the Principal Corporations.

Also, for any aspiring writers I’ve also written a couple of writing craft articles:

‘Writing and Naming Fantasy Characters’ on Barnes and Noble.

‘Inspiration for Fantasy Authors’ on the Civilian Reader.

Finally, Australian readers wondering why The Legion of Flame ebook was priced at $49.99 will be pleased to note that this appears to have been the result of a software glitch and the price has now been corrected to $16.99.

Deep Magic Magazine – New Article on How I Edit a Novel

Thanks to fellow fantasist Jeff Wheeler – author of The Legends of Muirwood and the Kingsfountain series – for inviting me to contribute to the relaunched Deep Magic Magazine. Anyone curious about how I edit my work should check out my article ‘How I Edit a Novel’, as well as a lot of great content including a story by Jeff himself and an interview with Brandon Sanderson. The June 2016 issue will be available in ebook format on the 14th but can be pre-ordered on Amazon at the low low price of $2.99. The magazine is also open to submissions so any aspiring writers should check out the website here. You can also drop by the Deep Magic Facebook page.

The full table of contents for the June 2016 issue is below:


  • The Churchyard Yarrow by Cecilia Dart-Thornton
  • The Perfect Specimen by Carrie Ann Noble
  • Rain Dance by Steve Yeager
  • The Apothecant by Brendon Taylor
  • The Beesinger’s Daughter by Jeff Wheeler
  • Novel Excerpt: Magic Bitter Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg


  • Interview with Brandon Sanderson
  • How I Edit a Novel by Anthony Ryan
  • Returning to the Light by David Pomerico




First Ever Guest Post – TJ Redig on Writing ‘The Philosopher’s Load’

Thanks to TJ Redig, host of the Scrivener Soapbox podcast and now first-time author, for writing the first ever guest post on my blog. Read on for a funny and insightful look at TJ’s experience of writing his first novel The Philosopher’s Load:


How on Earth did I end up writing The Philosopher’s Load, a novel chock-full of drugs, violence, awful antiheroes, even worse villains, and, most importantly, a man defecating substantial amounts of solid gold? I suppose you can blame graduate school, a lacklustre music career, and China Miéville.

I completed my undergraduate studies in 2009, right at the tail-end of the worst global recession since World War II. Trying to find work with a liberal arts degree was like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. With looming bankruptcy and no vocational prospects, I went the same way so many directionless degree-holders go: graduate school. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot and ended up with a great job, but my hobbies got shelved for a few years.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I played in a number of local rock bands. Fun fact, I earned most of my income during college by teaching guitar lessons. None of the bands did particularly well or netted me any substantial cash (a high-paying gig was one that covered gas, food, and drinks for the evening), but they provided me with a creative outlet. I didn’t realize how much I missed working the right-side of my brain until grad school was behind me.

I grew up reading lots of science fiction and fantasy, but eventually became bored of the recurring clichés. That’s where China Miéville comes into the story. For reasons I don’t remember, a neighbor gave me a box of books. Most of them were Stephen King or bland sword and sorcery, but there was also Perdido Street Station. Bas-Lag, the unique world from one of new weird’s most prolific writers, was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly drugs were A-Okay; the bizarre was beautiful; and the heroes didn’t have to be heroic, courageous, or even good. That’s when I first started kicking around the idea of writing a novel. And, of course, I wanted to write something weird.

The years prior to college and music were filled with lots of fiction writing, but none of it was published (or had any business ever being published). College had substantially improved my abilities while also teaching me some semi-useful things like, you know, the value of outlining and editing. That being said, I still pantsed the first draft and probably wouldn’t have finished the manuscript if I hadn’t; couldn’t kill the momentum. The second through umpteenth drafts were spent hammering the thing into shape. Honestly though, the story was decently structured even with an unplanned narrative featuring five POVs. This is pure speculation, but I think the countless hours spent crafting/running adventures for Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun had taught me a thing or two about plot progression. Finding a writing group that had some very talented authors (e.g., David Bruns and Aimee Kuzenski) and taking a bunch of classes at The Loft Literary Center helped too.  

The Philosopher’s Load was actually completed about six months ago (editing was done by the wonderful Valle Hansen from Words as Words), but I first pursued traditional publishing, forcing the manuscript into purgatory. Long story short, I turned down an offer from a small press and had some back and forth with a perspective agent before deciding to self-publish.

That’s about the gist of it. Now go forth and read the first few pages of The Philosopher’s Load (a sample pops up when you click the cover image on Amazon). I promise you’ll be hooked.

TJ Redig
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New Non-fiction Anthology – ‘Story Behind the Book : Volume 3’

Thanks to Kristijan Meic and Ivana Steiner for including my essay on the ideas that inspired the writing of Blood Song in their new anthology ‘Story Behind the Book : Volume 3 – Essays on Writing Speculative Fiction.’

Book description:

‘The anthology collects nearly 40 non-fiction essays from some of the most exciting authors working today. Offering an unique insight into the creative and publishing process, these essays reveal all the beauty, effort and frustration that inevitable comes hand in hand with the urge to write, edit or illustrate. Contributors include Steven Erikson, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Hugh Howey, Richard Kadrey, Rod Rees, Christopher Fowler, Gary Gibson, Eric Brown, Anthony Ryan, Alan Averill, Ian Gibson, Garry Kilworth, Steve Rasnic Tem, Ian R. MacLeod, Cat Sparks, James Everington, Pat Cadigan, Stephen Deas, Jay Kristoff, Peter Roman, Paul Tremblay, Geoffrey Gudgion, Tina Connolly, Joan Frances Turner, Freda Warrington, Beth Bernobich, Jeff Somers, James A. Moore, Ben Jeapes, John R. Fultz, Nick Mamatas, Sean Lynch, Max Gladstone, Karen Sandler, Robert Reed, Roberto Calas, Richard James Bentley and William J. Cobb. All proceeds will be donated to Epilepsy Action.’

The anthology has been put together by the folks behind the upcoming4.me website. This is a very worthwhile cause and a great collection of essays so please consider buying a copy:


E-book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O2C4C24

Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1502534711


E-book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00O2C4C24

Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1502534711

Book Country Guest Post – How to Write an Effective Battle Scene

Thanks to Book Country for hosting my guest post on writing an effective battle scene. Check it out here.

Interview on Writing and Publishing Resource blog

Check out the Writing and Publishing Resource Blog for my latest interview: http://sabineareed.com/fantasy-author-anthony-ryans-interview-author-of-blood-song/

Thanks to Sabine Reed for hosting the interview which is focused on my experiences of self and traditional publishing. There are also some tidbits about the future of Slab City Blues and a few words of advice for aspiring writers.

Blog Post Recommendation – The Anatomy of a Self-Published Ebook

Check out Lars Townsend’s post on The Anatomy of a Self-Published Ebook for some excellent insights on the nature of ebooks, self-publishing, writing in general and (incidentally) the inside story of how I got my deal with Penguin (yes, I owe it all to him – but my lawyer says I don’t have to pay him). It’s a long post but well worth the effort.

Fantasy Book Critic Guest Post

Thanks to the fine folks as FBC for hosting my guest post on the influence of history on epic fantasy, which can be read here:



The Secret to E-book Self-Publishing Success

As it’s been about five months since I published Blood Song in which time I’ve sold over 2000 books (admittedly most of them this month). So I thought it might be time to reveal the secret of self-publishing an e-book that sells. Don’t waste your time and money on how-to books or webinars, for I have the answer right here for free. Ready? OK, here goes:

Write a good book.

That’s it. There’s no mystery, no short-cuts and no substitute. If you want to write a book that sells, make it a good one. The advent of e-books has certainly opened the flood-gates to an enormous amount of unreadable dross, but it’s also brought about a new meritocracy in publishing. Put simply, if it’s good it will sell. If it’s not, it won’t and no amount of publicity will magically turn it into the bestseller you want it to be.

If you’re going to do this thing, accept the fact that you exist in a meritocracy, a real one. Not the pretend meritocracies of the corporate world where success is largely a matter of fooling gullible management into believing how great you are (read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test if you don’t believe me). In a real meritocracy all that matters is ability. Not popularity, not inter-personal skills, not a facility for spewing jargon and buzz-words. Just being good at what you do, and being good at something requires work.

Writing is hard and it takes a long time to do it well. I estimate it took me about 100,000 words before I got to a point where I wasn’t embarrassed to show people my work, and another 100,000 before I felt confident enough to publish it. So if you want to do this, get writing. Write every day, whenever you can. And, if you’ve never written before, accept the fact that you’ll probably write crap for the first 100,000 words or more. But having written 100,000 words you will definitely be a better writer than when you started. Writing is a craft and you can learn it, but learning requires doing, and no one is going to do it for you.

Worry about the mechanics of publishing when you’ve written something worth publishing. As you can learn to write you can learn to format a word file correctly, you can learn the basics of graphic design to produce your own covers, you can learn to write a blurb, you can learn to set up a blog or a website. But do it after you’ve actually written a book that’s worth someone’s time and money. And most of all, be honest with yourself. Deep down, you will know if the book you’ve written is ready for publication. Listen to that voice and don’t publish before you’re ready. Canvas second opinions from people you know will give you an honest critique and listen to what they tell you. If it’s not ready, don’t publish it. I’m eternally grateful for the fact that e-books came along after I’d gotten most of the dross out of my system, otherwise I might well have been tempted to publish it, with potentially ruinous results. Most pro-writers will have an anecdote about the terrible novel they stupidly sent out to publishers and subsequently burned so no one else would ever see it. You may have spent years on a novel only to find it’s just not very good – I did, more than once. Does that mean all that time was wasted? No, because I learned from it, I got better.

As writers we exist in a true meritocracy now. Publication is now open to all, but success is dependent on ability. It’s just about writing good books.